Matt Murray turns back Connor McDavid, leads Penguins past Oilers
The matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Edmonton Oilers is often billed as a battle between Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid.
It’s probably more apt, though, to call it a showdown between McDavid and Matt Murray.
After all, the goalie’s the one taking a hands-on approach to keeping the superstar off the scoreboard.
Score one for the goalie.
Murray turned back McDavid on a second-period penalty shot, leading the Penguins to a 3-1 victory on Wednesday night.
The Penguins have won two in a row to move three points clear in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Murray stopped 88 of the 90 shots he faced in those two victories.
“I thought the penalty shot save he made on McDavid is a game changer,” coach Mike Sullivan said.
With the Oilers trailing by a goal late in the second, McDavid took off on a breakaway at the tail end of a Penguins power play. He was hooked first by Jake Guentzel, then Kris Letang.
On the penalty shot, McDavid slowly skated up the left wing before moving to the center of the ice.
“He’s kind of carrying the puck behind him,” Murray said. “He can do pretty much anything from there. It’s tough. He can switch his angle. He can do a lot. Just try to battle. Try to stay aggressive and stay patient. Let him make the first move.”
McDavid shot toward Murray’s much-maligned glove hand. The goalie snared the puck with a flourish as he flopped to his backside.
“You want to be the guy who’s making saves back there for your team,” Murray said. “It feels good to do that, for sure. Hopefully gave us a little bit of momentum. I don’t know. Then you try to forget about it and move on to the next one.”
While McDavid had a first-period assist and Crosby put together a handful of high-end scoring chances, Penguins goals in the marquee matchup were scored by Bryan Rust, Teddy Blueger and Jared McCann.
Rust and Blueger converted in four-minute stretch of the second period to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead for the Penguins. McCann added an empty-netter with a minute left.
Rust collected a puck that Matt Cullen was working with below the goal line, stepped in front of the post and backhanded in a shot before goalie Mikko Koskinen could react at the 2:30 mark.
Less than four minutes later, Blueger got the puck to Kris Letang deep in the right-wing corner and took off for the net from the right point. Letang’s centering pass glanced off Koskinen’s gear, and Blueger buried a shot from the slot.
Blueger, who was a healthy scratch Monday night in Philadelphia, has scored in three of the seven NHL games he has played.
He didn’t think he took any of the spotlight away from McDavid and Crosby.
“I don’t know. Those guys are the show, for sure,” Blueger said. “It’s the best in the world going at it. I don’t think I can take away from that.”
The Penguins allowed two odd-man rushes to McDavid and linemate Leon Draisaitl in the first 10 minutes of the game. Draisaitl finished off a pass from McDavid on the first one about five minutes in after a pass from Letang to Tanner Pearson didn’t connect near the offensive blue line.
Penalty shot aside, McDavid’s chances grew fewer and farther between as the game went on.
“I think in our defensive zone we’re doing a real good job of defending hard,” Sullivan said. “We’re keeping plays to the perimeter. We’re defending the net front pretty well.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .